Reverse logistics is a process whereby companies can become more environmentally efficient through recycling, reusing, and reducing the amount of materials used. A more holistic view of reverse logistics includes reduction of materials in the forward system in such a way that fewer materials flow back, reuse of materials is possible, and recycling is facilitated.
The measures aimed at reducing waste begin in the product design phase and incorporate the entire product life cycle, including transportation and final disposal. This will allow minimizing the waste downstream and allowing the product to go backward in the chain for possible remanufacturer, reuse, recycling, or resell for secondary market.
Reverse logistics differs from waste management in that it focuses on the addition of value to a product to be recovered. On the other hand, waste management involves mainly the collection and treatment of the waste products that have got no new use. A reverse supply chain is the network of activities involved in the reuse, recycling, and final disposal of products and their associated components and materials. The public is only concerned with the aftermath environmental impacts of the products at the end-of-use life.
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is an important tool in reverse logistics and involves assessing alternative materials and component concepts from the start of the development process and throughout the entire product life cycle, from the retrieval of raw materials through the utilization phase to recovery.
Waste management legislation in Europe is strong where firms are directed to address recovery and disposal of end-of-life products in an environmentally sound manner. As far as United States is concerned, economic factors focused on resource recovery value have been the main motivating factor. On the other hand, reverse logistics in emerging economies is in early stages and depends heavily on third-party provider due to shortage of legislation, awareness, and infrastructure. Professional collection, sorting and transportation of end-of-life products are much needed in emerging markets such as Middle East.
In the developing world, reverse logistics work is characterized with low value addition due to the low reprocessing involved for example from recycled electronics, paper, automobiles, scrap, plastics and food waste. Unfortunately reverse logistics has not received the desired attention in developing countries and is generally carried out by the unorganized sector for recyclables like paper, plastics and metal.
Brazilian National Solid Waste Policy
In 2010, Brazil finalized its National Solid Waste Policy, a law that aims to decrease the total volume of waste produced nationally and increase the sustainability of solid waste management from the local level to the national level. Public, domestic, industrial, mining, forestry, transportation, construction, and health waste are all covered by this policy, and much of the responsibility for paying for or providing management of waste falls to its producers. The law outlines a variety of options for producers to work together within their sectors, with reverse logistics service providers, and with municipal and state governments to manage waste flows and to recapture, recycle, and ultimately dispose of these materials.
Manufacturers, stores, supermarkets, distributors, importers and the retail trade are obliged to implement reverse logistics systems. Under the terms of the law: “Packaging will be manufactured with materials that permit reutilization or recycling”. This is valid for the entire country and acts as a guarantee for companies that reverse logistics will be adopted more rapidly.
While the law has not yet gone into full effect, many cities in Brazil have made significant progress on waste management in recent years. Rio de Janeiro has improved its landfills and its recycling rates. Cities such as São Paulo and Curitiba have increased recycling rates and practices, and their laws helped pave the way for the national mandate.
A well-managed reverse logistics program can result in significant cost savings in procurement, disposal, inventory holding and transportation. This may be carried out by the original product manufacturers or by third-party reverse logistics providers. With increased industrialization and globalization, reverse logistics is bound to gain momentum in coming years in the developing countries which will not only lead to economic gains but also protect the environment.
About the Authors
Mohammed Alnuwairan is a PhD Candidate from Manchester Business School, Manchester (UK) and a faculty member at King Faisal University (Saudi Arabia). His main research interests are operation management, reverse logistics management, re-manufacturing and waste disposal. He has a Master's Degree in Manufacturing Management from Windsor University in Canada; and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business from King Faisal University KFU in Saudi Arabia KSA.
Salman Zafar is the Founder of EcoMENA and a renowned expert in waste management, renewable energy, environment protection and sustainability. He is widely acknowledged as an authority on environment and sustainability sector in the Middle East and is proactively engaged in creating mass awareness on clean energy, environment and sustainability through his websites, blogs, articles and projects.